Remind People to Do the Right Thing

Dan Ariely continues to find small, easy ways to change behavior. This time it was his students running the experiment instead of him. Two students sent an email to everyone in the class that included a link to a website that was supposed to contain the answers to a past year’s final exam.

In half of the emails they included this statement:

P.S. I don’t know if this is cheating or not, but here’s a section of the University’s Honor Code that might be pertinent. Use your own judgment:

“Obtaining documents that grant an unfair advantage to an individual is not allowed”

Using Google Analytics, the students tracked how many people from each group visited the website with the answers. Overall, about 69% of the class visited. However, when the message included the reminder about the honor code, only 41% accessed the website.

Of course 41% is a big number. So the honor code message did not prevent cheating. But it did cause a big drop from 69%.

From a qualitative perspective, the replies to the email message indicated that those who received the honor code message were often upset and offended. And those that did not see the code were generally thankful.

Again, Ariely shows the powers of reminders when it comes to instilling ethical behavior.

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